my boss brings her elderly uncle to work with her

A reader writes:

I work for a highly specialized temp staffing agency. We serve only one industry, and come to assignments already having a high level of knowledge and experience in our field. I’m one of two temporary staff at my current assignment; the other, who’s been here longer and is in a higher-level position, is effectively my boss. (In an ideal world, we’d both be reporting to the same on-site company employee, but that person isn’t really in a position to assign work or otherwise act as a manager at present – long story.) Professionally, she really knows her stuff, and seems to have made some important steps toward cleaning up a big mess at this company (though they still have a long way to go).

But there is a problem, of course, and it’s one I don’t think I’ve seen in your column yet. My boss is also the primary caregiver for an elderly relative with dementia, who she brings to work with her about half the time. At first, this seemed a little odd – when she meets with clients, Uncle Bob is right there the office, and he has a habit of striking up out-of-the-blue conversations with both coworkers and clients alike – but hey, as a temp, I’m accustomed not only to working with a lot of distractions, but also to keeping my opinions about the local customs to myself unless I’m specifically asked. Lately, though, it’s gotten much worse. Due to some changes at the company where we’re working, it’s usually just Boss and I in the office … which means that if she heads out to a meeting, I become Uncle Bob’s de facto babysitter. Mostly, he just sits in Boss’s office quietly, but he does periodically come out and ask where Boss is and when she’s coming back, or ask to use the restroom (which means someone needs to escort him there and then help him find Boss’s office again when he’s done). These interruptions are distracting, especially when I’m working on a project that requires fairly intense concentration (which most of my work does), though honestly not much more so than fielding the occasional client contact that comes in.

Mostly, though, I’ve just gotten more and more frustrated and flummoxed with how inappropriate this is. Admittedly, some of my motives are selfish ones: I have no special skill or interest in elder care or memory care, especially for a stranger, and looking after Uncle Bob takes time away from the work I’m being paid to do. But I’m also concerned about how this impacts our business – both in terms of how unprofessional it makes both the temp staffing company and the company where we’re currently working look, AND in terms of liability (which would be a disaster if Uncle Bob were to wander off on his way back from the bathroom and be injured or worse).

What would AAM do?

Oh, gosh. The thing here is that if you take out the overall weirdness of having someone’s relative in your office all day, the actual impact on you isn’t all that significant: you answer a couple of not-crazy-sounding questions (although the escorting him to the bathroom part is probably odd). But it doesn’t sound like you’re being asked to truly babysit him, or engage in elder care, or anything like that.

So it seems like the real issue is less about the fairly minimal impact on your work and more about the fact that it’s just plain weird to have this situation.

I’m curious about whether the staffing agency that placed you both there knows about this. It seems like the type of thing that they normally wouldn’t okay, and I wonder if they’re even aware. One option would be to talk to your contact there and explain that you feel a little uncomfortable about being tasked with watching over the uncle when your boss is out.

Another possibility too, of course, is to talk with your boss directly, but I’m honestly struggling to come up with language that you’re likely to feel comfortable using. I suppose I’d say something like this: “Jane, I feel awkward about having your uncle in our office so often, especially when you’re away and I need to watch over him and help him when he needs anything. Is this a temporary measure while you look for full-time care for him, or is it something that will continue long-term?”

Ideally that would cue her in that you’re not okay with this arrangement, but if she simply tells you that it’s her long-term plan, then you could ask if the staffing company knows and is okay with it. If they are, well, there’s your answer — this is part of the set-up there, and you’d then need to decide whether it’s a job you want, knowing that this comes with the package.

Of course, then you also need to be prepared for there to be awkwardness between you and your boss if she ends up not bringing the uncle in anymore and resents you for it — I don’t see any way to ward that chance off, even by being reasonable and kind in your tone throughout your dealings over this. It’s a messy situation, as it always is when someone violates generally accepted office norms and expects others to be okay with it, without even talking it through with them.

{ 155 comments… read them below }

  1. Victoria HR*

    And if the staffing agency isn’t aware of it, and you tell them, and they discipline her for it in any way, because it’s only the 2 of you in the office, she’ll know it was you and that’ll make it beaucoup awkward.

  2. the gold digger*

    I feel bad for the OP, because this is a bizarre situation, but man, how hard must things be for the co-worker that she is taking care of her sick, elderly uncle? What a nightmare her life must be: being in charge of someone who can’t take care of himself and (probably) not having the money to make sure he is cared for properly.

    I wouldn’t be crazy about having my boss’ elderly uncle in the office, either, but wow – what a difficult situation for the co-worker.

  3. Josh S*

    I actually think that being ‘on call’ for whatever needs this guy may have is a bigger deal than you make it out to be, Alison. Dementia is one of those issues that can be fine 99 days out of 100, but when the 100th day comes, it can be hellish. And then there’s the possibility of violence if a person with dementia gets confused and doesn’t recognize you (which can happen even if you’re their day-to-day caregiver/relative, let alone the co-worker in a temp situation). It’s the uncertainty and the stress of being ‘responsible’ for this guy that is unacceptable. The OP is on duty to make sure the guy doesn’t wander off, to deal with any accidents that might happen in the bathroom, nd any medical issues that may arise — none of which she signed up for and any of which she may be unequipped to deal with.

    None of that should be her responsibility, even remotely, even for a few minutes.

    Ideally that would cue her in that you’re not okay with this arrangement, but if she simply tells you that it’s her long-term plan, then you could ask if the staffing company knows and is okay with it.

    Given the number of times that hinting at an issue–even overtly hinting at it like this–gets misinterpreted to the disadvantage of the person who is trying to hint, I think it’s better to be direct.

    OP can say something like, “I understand that you are the caregiver for your Uncle Bob, and that he may be in the office from time to time. However, I need to be clear that I am unable to assist you in his care. If you need to go to a meeting, you need to find other arrangements for your Uncle–I cannot and will not help. I’m not qualified to do so, and I’m not comfortable with the situation.”

    The question of whether or not the Temp Firm has OK’d the situation is completely separate from whether or not the OP should be required to provide care for someone — even for just a minute. IMO, it’s not OK and it’s perfectly fine for her to say so and to refuse to help.

    1. Josh S*

      (Granted, it doesn’t sound like Uncle Bob is yet progressed in his dementia to the point where violence or accidents are likely. But things can progress quickly, and “bad days” are unpredictable.)

      1. AMW*

        +1 This is not a good situation for the OP to be in should something happen to Uncle Bob. That would be my number one concern here.

        1. Ryan*

          I’d be worried about getting saddled with that responsibility when I never asked for it. Like you say…what if he had an accident while she was gone? Guess whose fault that’s gonna end up being?

      2. LJL*

        To add to that, you never know whether or when the dementia may escalate to violence. In dementia, the brain is deteriorating. Trust me; I know from experience.

        It sounds like the boss really needs some help with her uncle. resources for caregivers of those with dementia and will link to local resources. I’m sure the boss will find it useful, if not now, then later when the disease progresses.

      3. Rana*

        That’s a really good point. A parallel I can think of is someone bringing an infant to work with them – remember that conversation? – and expecting their co-workers to babysit. The distraction of having a non-employee family member in the office is one thing; expecting one’s co-workers to assume responsibility for that person is another.

      4. Amouse*

        Totally agree with everything you said. I actually think it’s more compassionate for the OP not to watch the uncle. On the surface I myself would also feel guilty for having to tell my coworker that I am unwilling to watch her uncle but in the bigger picture should something unexpected happen, I am not qualified to handle it and the situation could be made worse by my own incompetence.

        1. twentymilehike*

          should something unexpected happen, I am not qualified to handle it and the situation could be made worse by my own incompetence.

          OH THIS! As SOON as I read the part where co worker LEFT, I immediately thought, “something will happen and OP is not prepared for it.” I have also seen dimentia turn ugly. Personally, this is something that I would not be able to tolerate. Maybe my reaction is extreme, but I would be so uncomfortable and worried that I wouldn’t be able to get any work done.

          If I were in the OPs shoes, I’m sure that I would have a heart-to-heart with my coworker about the postion I felt it put me in and candidly ask what her long term plans are.

          What about taking him to his local senior center to hang out during the day instead? I volunteered at one in college and based on my experience, that seems like the logical, appropriate solution.

      1. Josh S*

        I am considering the above sentence to be your gift to me for my upcoming birthday. I consider it high praise. Thank you!

    2. Ashley*

      I totally agree. Even though all she has to “do” is answer a few questions and escort him to the bathroom, I think it can be assumed she also has to be on watch to make sure he does not injure himself, get into trouble, or wander away. Not to mention people with dementia can be dangerous and unpredictable when they become disoriented. If something were to happen to him or the office while she was the only one there would she be responsible? My guess is yes. This is not okay at all.

      1. fposte*

        Add to that the fact that the niece is a temp, so the actual workplace company is probably risking liability for a situation they have no idea is even going on.

    3. gee*

      You are absolutely right. The OP needs to be absolutely firm that she will not be responsible for the uncle’s care at any point. Ever. Period. No exceptions. It’s completely unacceptable.

      1. Kate*

        +1 x infinity to the liability concerns. OP, the temp agency, and the company are all exposed to liability in the event something happens.

        In addition, having him sit for hours at a time without proper mental stimulation could actually make the disease progress faster. He needs puzzles, crosswords, card games, human interaction, whatever else could possibly help him retain mental faculties. Not to mention that any sort of craft project could help with fine motor skills (this was an issue with one of my family members affected by dementia).

        It’s a sad situation, but as others have mentioned, there are programs and resources available. The coworker needs to investigate and make those arrangements as soon as possible. It is not the responsibility of the OP to help in what should be a private family situation.

    4. BW*

      Yes, this is a really bad situation to be put in, and it is stressful because of the worry of anything happening to Uncle Bob on her watch and the general unpredictability of dementia. It’s really a bad set up.

      I was a caregiver for my mother, who had something other than dementia, and it never crossed my mind to bring her into the office and have co-workers cover while I couldn’t. It’s like bringing your kids into the office and expecting your co-workers to watch them for you.

      I empathize with the boss. She really needs to get some help for Uncle Bob, but it’s really not okay to bring him into the office for babysitting, and I think it is a big deal and a major inconvenience and concern for the temp who ends up being responsible for him when her boss is unable to watch him. It’s not just about how much she will be interrupted.

  4. Ivy*

    I know where you’re coming from, but at the same time I’m really sympathetic with the boss. No, it’s not appropriate to bring your uncle in. And no, your boss isn’t the only person who is caring for a relative. But at the same time dementia is so heartbreaking and your boss is probably doing the best she can.

    I think you should talk to her before talking to the agency. Let her know that it makes you uncomfortable because I don’t think she’s even aware of that fact. Maybe she hasn’t found an alternative because she thinks it doesn’t bother you.

    On a personally level, I wouldn’t talk to the agency at all. I think the awkwardness it will create between you and her is not worth it. Especially because it really doesn’t seem like the old guy bothers you that much. Again though, this is me sympathizing with the boss’s situation so my judgement may be clouded.

    1. TM*

      I disagree with this. Sure, it is a sad situation, one that millions of people deal with daily. However there are resources that are available and even if she cannot afford to pay for them, she should find another way. Unfortunately that may mean the boss has to take time off.

      Now to the part I disagree with most…she NEEDS to tell the temp agency. As Josh said, dementia is one of those things that can bring about violence or worse, result in uncle getting lost/hurt/etc. If that happens and the agency does not know, believe me, boss is going to let them know it happened on LW’s watch.

      She will probably also mention that LW never expressed any concern about watching him. The agency will then hold the temp accountable as to why they were not informed of this huge liability. Better to air on the side of caution than to try and keep it to yourself in these situations.

      Sure it may make things uncomfortable with this 1 client, but the temp agency may be able to find another place for temp. If she leaves them liable and they had no clue…her job there is done.

      1. fposte*

        The weird thing is that they’re *both* temps. There’s nobody from the “real” company onsite there.

  5. Aaron*

    If your boss is the smart (or at least minimally competent) person you make her out to be, she knows this is non-standard. I’d trust that she’s doing this because she really can’t figure out a better arrangement (as AAM said, it could be short term, too). Try to empathize a bit more with her… you certainly have the right to bring this up to others, but given that it sounds like this is not really impacting your work, unless you are somehow assisting in covering up the fact that this is going on, trying to get it “fixed” seems pretty heartless to me.

    1. JamieG*

      The impact is minimal when OP’s boss is in the office. But when she leaves, the uncle becomes OP’s responsibility by default. If OP’s boss brought in a little kid* – not a baby, but one mostly able to take care of herself – it would be the same issue. The child wouldn’t usually require any actual assistance or care, but OP would always be aware that they could require assistance at any moment, and it would be OP’s responsibility since she’s the only other person around.

      *Disclaimer: I’ve never had much interaction with anyone with dementia, and I’m not intending disrespect by comparing the uncle to a child. It’s just the best “mostly independent but that could always change” analogy I can come up with.

      1. Aaron*

        Great analogy! When I was young, my mom would occasionally bring me into her office and stick me in a conference room when other childcare fell through or she unexpectedly had to go into the office. And then she’d go into meetings and be unavailable. While I don’t remember being particularly needy, I’m sure an admin. assistant or coworker would occasionally look in on me. Even though it wasn’t part of their job!

        And you know what? It was fine! Thank goodness none of you worked there.

        1. JamieG*

          Yes, it was fine. But it could have not been fine, and it’s not appropriate to expect a coworker to take it upon herself to be responsible for somebody else’s dependent.

          I work retail. Sometimes, guests where I work will leave a child in their cart in front of me and walk away. Even though I don’t interact with the child, I’m still not as efficient as I would be otherwise because I’m distracted; I know that if the kid starts trying to climb out of the cart or something and hurts herself, I’d probably be held responsible for not keeping a better eye out. Or, heck, even outside of work, at family functions, I have relatives with toddlers who completely ignore them while the kids are grabbing knives and scissors off the tables. I can’t relax or focus on what I’m trying to do, because there are people around who need some degree of care or supervision. It’s not appropriate to bring a dependent into a situation where someone else is expected or assumed to be responsible (without their approval/permission).

        2. Ellie H.*

          I think that’s a little different. First of all, there were many people in the office, not just one. Second, your mom was still in the building. Third, looking after an elderly person with dementia is totally different than a young kid – I have no experience with the former and would be hugely uncomfortable and panicked at the responsibility. I think most people would be less uncomfortable at having to interact with a kid, at least one who’s old enough to be capable of amusing herself in a conference room, for a few moments.

        3. COT*

          Aaron, your situation was also an occasional emergency thing, not an ongoing frequent occurrence. Uncle Bob is not just showing up once in a blue moon when his other care falls through; he’s there 2-3 days a week. That signals to me that his other care arrangements are not appropriately meeting his needs.

      2. TM*

        It is a close analogy but let me tell you, I’ve seen someone with dementia flip a lid and it is scary. The difference with a child is that they are (usually) smaller than you. A grown man flipping out is scary at best.

        One thing people don’t assume is that older people (when in an adrenaline induced state) can be quite strong and quick.

        1. LJL*

          Amen. At least, with a child, the adult is usually larger. That may not be the case for an adult with dementia. And the adults with dementia can get out of hand quickly, endangering both themselves and others.

    2. TM*

      I don’t think it is heartless at all. This coming from a person who has helped (long term) with an aging family member. This is a major major deal.

      As a temp you are required to immediately report issues/concerns like this to the agency. It is not like a regular employee. If this agency finds out this has been going on and she did not tell them, they most likely won’t view this as a “good job handling this yourself” they are going to view it as a lapse in judgement and based on her contract with them it could even result in termination.

      There is a reason people are trained in health and elder care. You better believe if something happens to uncle on LW’s watch, that boss is going to put it all out there to the temp agency. Her favor (keeping this under wraps) could go south in a really bad way.

      1. Aaron*

        I know little about temping, and if you are right that it would look badly for OP not to bring this up, then OP should bring it up. And I will defer to you on that.

        But that’s totally separate from the “elder care requires a trained professional” argument. And, I’d point out that the boss is probably in this position because the alternative is leaving the uncle at home by himself, or quitting her job, or some other extremely unappetizing option, not because the uncle has long-term care insurance but the boss can’t be bothered to fill out the claims paperwork.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The thing is, though, it’s not okay for the boss to enlist the OP in helping her without the OP’s explicit consent. (And frankly, because the coworker is the OP’s boss, I’d have questions about whether the OP’s explicit consent could even qualify as real consent, because of the power differential.)

          1. Aaron*

            Totally agree. If the boss wrote in and asked if this were ok, the answer would clearly be no. But if I were this employee, I like to think I’d try to figure out how to live with this, at least short-term, even though it would have been better to be asked.

            Given that I’m not there, I realize I can’t say for sure. But I liked your original answer 100x more than Josh S’s script. Maybe I’d go for some combination of the two.

            1. been there*

              I agree with Josh S’s answer. My mom was diagnosed with dementia about five years ago and we recently placed her into a memory care facility. We kept a close eye on her prior to her recent move and I would never have asked a non-family member to look after her, especially on a regular basis. Although she could look and sound normal much of the time, she was not. That is a horrible position to put someone in.

          2. JK*

            This is the first thing I thought about when reading the letter. It’s pretty amazing that the boss didn’t discuss this situation with the OP. I can think of several reasons the boss WOULDN’T want to discuss it, but a big change in the working environment is something that has to be at least mentioned, even when it’s difficult. And the same thing would be true if the person involved was a same-level colleague. It’s not fair to make such a big change that affects other people without – at the very least – bringing it up, let alone asking if the other person is OK with it. I feel strongly about this because when there are difficult conversations to be had, of course no one wants to have them, but I make myself do it because it’s not fair to my colleagues not to.

    3. Amouse*

      I think heartless is a little strong. The Op has a right to be concerned about this situation and to feel uncomfortable with it. As heartbreaking as dementia is, it still make behaviour unpredictable and potentially dangerous. In my opinion if someone is unqualified to care for a person with dementia they are actually acting more compassionately by not doing so because to do so may endanger not just the Op but Uncle Bob as well, should a situation arise that the OP does not know how to handle. Qualified medical professionals or primary caregivers should be handling this.

  6. Anonymous*

    Alison, one thing I would recommend is mentioning that there are programs geared towards Alzheimer patients, sort of an adult day care where they can drop off their charges for a few hours. If the boss looks into a local Alzheimer’s foundation chapter, they can probably give her information on that.

    I helped take care of my great-uncle who had Alzheimer’s and if we had known about this program, we probably could have lessened the workload on our family. Just that few hours to run errands makes a difference.

    1. Sasha*

      Great idea, I have seen several adult day care programs that are run by community groups, churches, etc., that provide these services at little or no cost.

  7. DA*

    I don’t understand how this situation is at all even remotely close to being acceptable or professional. Illness or not, when is it ever acceptable to bring in a family member to the office on a regular basis, often for extended periods of time?

    The boss needs to find/make other arrangements for her uncle, end of story. The OP needs to go around their manager immediately to get this situation taken care of.

  8. Malissa*

    I’d hand over the contact information for the local agency on aging. They are a great resource for getting care and information for dealing with elderly relatives.
    Do it with the words that you know caring for uncle bob must be hard and here’s somebody to get her some help.
    When it comes to elder care what first looks like a temporary situation can become permanent with out a person realizing it.

      1. BW*

        Absolutely! I am lucky to live in an area where there are local agencies and charities that provide resources or assistance to elders. Huge huge huge help!

  9. Joey*

    I disagree completely with raising it as something you’re not comfortable doing. I say that only because you’re a temp. If you did raise it as a problem you don’t want to handle I could see you getting a phone call that your assignment is over. Happens all the time in temp land.

    What I do think is feesible is to raise your concern that you wouldn’t know what to do if the guy wanders, has an accident, etc. Because let’s face it if the boss is caring for him its reasonable to assume anyone else could if they’re told what to do.

      1. Anonymous*

        And frankly, these ‘temps’ sound specialized enough that they’re not exactly of the dime-a-dozen replaceable variety.

      2. Joey*

        Not so. You’ve got to assume its allowed if the guy keeps coming back. I’m not saying its right at all, its not. I’m just saying that of you refuse to do something as a temp, even when its reasonable, you can quickly find yourself unemployed. And I understand the feeling of being unequipped to deal with it, and that’s the part that the op should focus on. But it’s certainly sounds possible for the boss to equip the op appropriatly. I know that’s not ideal, but as a temp its so easy for the boss to pick up the phone and say “another temp please.”

        1. JamieG*

          But the boss is also a temp. I’m pretty sure that if she tried to complain about OP not being willing to help care for her family member, that would look way worse for the boss than for OP.

        2. Mike C.*

          This is a bad argument.

          What if the boss wants the electrical box fixed, taxes completed, legal representation and you aren’t aren’t licensed for any of these activities? What about illegal activities like being asked for sexual favors?

          Just because you are a temp doesn’t mean you should have to put up with unreasonable requests. This is one of them.

          1. Joey*

            I’m not talking about illegal stuff. That’s a different argument. I’m talking about stuff that you didn’t sign up for that you aren’t necessarily trained to do.

              1. fposte*

                Are you sure? Even in California the licensing requirements look to be only for facilities, not individuals providing non-medical care at the client’s home (or presumably place of choice).

                1. A Bug!*

                  I think it’s reasonable for elder care requirements to be more stringent than for child-care in certain respects, for a few reasons.

                  Children obviously require competent care, but with most children, third-party care is provided on a short-term basis, like daycare and babysitters, and return to their parents on a daily or near-daily basis. Children on average are quite a bit more resilient than elders as well.

                  With elder care, it’s generally longer term, and often the caretaker acts as the elder’s primary source of human interaction. When you throw into the mix any significant assets, and weakening mental faculties, and perhaps family who can’t or don’t visit regularly, there’s a lot of potential for abuse with elder care.

                2. fposte*

                  That’s a really interesting law, Kathryn; thanks for mentioning it. I had no idea that any state had passed anything so complete. I’m used to areas where there’s a lot of informal arrangements with neighbors for small payments; I wonder what would happen to those.

              1. Joey*

                Funny you asked. I was an account manager at a staffing co for more than 5 years. I would ask the client. If they wanted the boss and were okay with it he stays. And the temp who wasn’t okay with it would go. Funny how keeping a paying client happy trumps almost everything.

                1. Joey*

                  Some would say no, but some would be fine, especially privately owned. And it’s not my liability- he’s not my employee. If he got hurt the establishment could be liable, but that’s not my call to make. The only time I’d have a problem is if it was illegal or could cost me more money than the temp is worth.

                2. KellyK*

                  How sure are you that it wouldn’t be your liability if you deliberately and knowingly put a temp who isn’t trained in elder care in the position of being responsible for someone with dementia?

                3. Esra*

                  I’m surprised to read this. I mean, at that point, you’d basically be taking away someone’s livelihood because they are unwilling to do something entirely out of their purview, that takes away from their time working and ability to focus and accomplish their work to the best of their ability. That just seems so wrong.

              2. KellyK*

                To anybody who might reasonably have grounds to sue if something happens. The uncle himself, another family member, a random customer or coworker who the uncle ends up assaulting because he’s confused.

                Or, for that matter, the client. Just because they say they’re cool with it doesn’t mean they won’t turn around and sue you if something happens.

                I’m not a lawyer, so I have no idea how successful any of those potential suits might be, but it seems odd that you’re so cavalier about assuming that you couldn’t possibly have any liability for making it a temp’s job to be responsible for someone with dementia.

                1. KellyK*

                  No, but it’s a pretty common symptom of dementia. (Look at all the other comments from family members of people with dementia noting that it’s an issue and a concern.) The fact that he doesn’t now doesn’t mean he might not at some point as his condition worsens, and that’s just one more aspect of care for an elderly person with dementia that a temp in an unrelated field is going to have no idea how to handle and a reason they should not be put in that position.

            1. Elizabeth*

              But in this case it’s not just that the OP isn’t trained to do it – it’s that there’s a possibility that doing this care, when she’s not trained, could result in harm to her or to the uncle. The boss is asking the OP to do something potentially dangerous. This is a liability issue. In addition to boiling down to the parent company paying the OP to take care of Uncle Bob, which is probably not what they intended to hire her for.

            2. Natalie*

              Actually, this might be illegal. In some jurisdictions leaving an older person who needs assistance unattended for an extended period of time is considered elder abuse.

              The fact that there are other employees present wouldn’t necessarily be a defense. I remember some cases over the last few years where the elderly person was abandoned at a mall.

        3. fposte*

          Joey, the boss is the other temp–there is no non-temp at the site. Nobody who has the authority to allow this is there.

            1. BW*

              Just because she has more pull, doesn’t give her carte blanche to bring in family members and ask anyone else to baby sit them. That isn’t a business request. It’s a personal favor. No one is under any obligation to do their boss any personal favors.

              1. Elizabeth*

                Especially not on company time. This is obviously a more serious situation than the boss asking their subordinate to go pick up cupcakes for her kid’s birthday, and I feel much more sympathy for this boss than others that ask personal favors – but regardless, it’s not what the OP was hired to do. “…and other duties” is part of most job descriptions, but it’s generally understood that those duties should still relate to the work of the company.

            2. fposte*

              We have no idea who has more pull, because nobody’s pulled.

              I don’t disagree with you that there’s a power differential in situ and that it’s foolish to take action without considering power differentials. I’m just not as convinced as you are that this power differential extends beyond these office walls.

    1. TM*

      I don’t know Joey, when we had to care for our aging family member, we got CPR certified, had to go to all kinds of sessions with not only the Dr. but other trained professionals to learn what to do and not. We even had to learn about certain dietary restrictions (trigger foods – though this is not true for every elder care situation). There is just so much the LW doesn’t know and a quick few minutes won’t catch her up.

    2. Kathryn T.*

      Think of it this way: let’s say the uncle goes to the bathroom, and while he’s in there, he falls, bashes his head on the urinal, and loses consciousness. Whose problem is that? Who has to deal with that? Or let’s say he suddenly becomes agitated and aggressive, while he’s in the office alone with the OP. Whose responsibility is that?

      The answer needs to be “someone who is trained and competent to address those issues,” not an unrelated professional in a completely different field. And both of those scenarios are completely plausible, even for someone in the early stages of dementia.

        1. Kathryn T.*

          But unless the OP speaks up first, the situation will have *already happened.* There needs to be someone qualified and available there in CASE something like this occurs.

          1. Joey*

            That’s why your raise concerns before something happens. And I’m sorry you don’t get to decide if you’re qualified to do it because if they boss says you are then you are. That’s kinda like saying you’re not qualified to answer phones because you don’t know what to do. It may not have been part of the deal, but it becomes part of the deal if the boss says so.

            1. Kathryn T.*

              “And I’m sorry you don’t get to decide if you’re qualified to do it”

              No, that’s not true. There are training and licensing requirements for dementia and elder care. Either the OP meets those requirements, or they don’t. It’s like lifeguarding; your boss can’t just suddenly decide that you’re a lifeguard now and stick you in the tall chair.

              1. Joey*

                If watching someone with dementia for a few minutes from time to time is illegal without official training and licensing then probably thousands and thousands are breaking the law every day.

                1. Kathryn T.*

                  Yes, they probably are. Speeding is illegal too — everyone does it, but it’s still illegal, and nobody should be made to do it as a condition of employment.

                  Where do you see that this is happening for “a few minutes from time to time”?

                2. KayDay*

                  It’s different for family members. It’s commonly accepted that family members provide care for sick/old/young/otherwise incapacitated relatives all the time, even without training.

                  However, you would not hire or expect someone not related to the individual to do the same without training.

                  BTW, I’m not sure how exactly the law regarding elder care works, but there are different certification requirements for different responsibilities. There are babysitters for elderly people who don’t have much training beyond that of a baby sitter (and are mostly there to call 911 if needed and help opening things) and then their are RN’s with specialized training who can do a lot more. (and everything in between).

                3. nyxalinth*

                  Joey, you’re seriously becoming irritating. I hope you’re never put into this situation, and never have to experience all the liability being thrown on to you, etc. if something goes wrong.

                  I’ve noticed time and again that it’s human nature to think “It stops being okay when it starts being me.”

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Wait, no, I don’t ever want anyone being told they’re irritating for arguing a point of view here. It’s totally fine to disagree, but let’s not characterize people that way.

                5. Mike C.*

                  You’re moving the goalposts here Joey.

                  You started out claiming that anyone can do this work because their boss can simply grant them the qualification to do so, and now you’re claiming that the qualification doesn’t matter because you view the increased responsibility as insignificant.

                6. fposte*

                  It’s not a question of what somebody would expect, though (especially since in this case the person isn’t under any illusion about what she’s getting); it’s whether the law cares to control what you’re allowed to use. And as far as I know, there isn’t a law that forbids you from bringing anybody willing in for pay–there’s no “you have to have x license to watch over an unrelated elderly person.”

                7. Joey*

                  I’m not moving anything. I’m just saying that its hard to argue to your boss you aren’t qualified to care for an elder if he says its okay to. Now if you can show him its illegal thats different.

                8. Joey*

                  I’m not trying to be combative I’m simply telling you my perspective as someone who has dealt with not exactly this, but very similar stuff. You’d be surprised the weird stuff people condone in their workplaces. And as a staffing company its kinda hard to tell paying clients what’s appropriate in their place of business. I can only tell them how it could be bad for their business. But in the end I’m not going to risk good business just because some client has a quirky culture. Of course this doesn’t apply to illegal stuff which can harm my business.

                9. EngineerGirl*

                  The problem is that she’s being paid to watch the elder person. If it were volunteer it would be different.

            2. BW*

              If your boss came to you with a nasty raging abscess and insisted you lance it so he doesn’t have to bother with a doctor, does that become part of the deal? What if he asked you to come to his house and clean his toilet with your toothbrush? He’s the boss right? It’s part of the deal.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Obviously those are wildly inappropriate, but ultimately it’s true that your boss can require you to do whatever she wants, as long as it’s not illegal and as long as no one above her objects. Basically, your job is (or ends up being) what your boss says it is.

                That’s basically what I meant in the second-to-last paragraph of my response: Find out if this is going to change or not, and if not, decide if you want the job under these conditions.

                1. BW*

                  I came up with those, because I think asking someone to care for your elderly family member you bring to the office when it’s in no way related to your job or the business is also wildly inappropriate.

                  But I agree with you, it may be the situation is what it is, and the OP needs to decide if she wants the job under those conditions.

            3. fposte*

              Sure, where the boss is the final authority. But if there are legal requirements and restrictions, they have more authority than the boss. Nor will the law let you off for, say, claiming to be a doctor just because your boss in the nutraceutical company told you to.

              That being said, I’m not convinced this particular case would actually breach any law governing care–most caretaking requirements are for insurance and for establishing a standard to reassure clients.

            4. KellyK*

              Okay, here’s what I don’t understand. You’re simultaneously arguing that the OP should raise the concern and saying that you would have no hesitation letting them go for having a problem with it.

              1. Joey*

                The difference is I would say I don’t know how to do this instead of saying I won’t do this. The latter can mean the end of your job the first is a call for training.

                1. KellyK*

                  But you don’t honestly think that the company is going to provide elder care training, do you? That’s so far outside the realm of their normal duties that it would seem weirder to ask for it than to say you’re not comfortable being put in charge of someone’s elderly relative.

      1. twentymilehike*

        let’s say the uncle goes to the bathroom, and while he’s in there, he falls, bashes his head on the urinal, and loses consciousness.

        I might be splitting hairs, but this could happen to anyone. Would the difference be that, say if OP fell and hit their head, they would be covered under the employers liability insurance, whereas someone who was “visiting” would not be?

        It is entirely possible to split this into two issues:
        (1) Family members really shouldn’t be hanging out at your work (whether they are ill or not)
        (2) Individuals with special conditions need appropriate care.

        Depending on the company’s culture and who the OP ends up talking to, it may be entirely appropriate to focus on either one or both issues. For example, my office is small and privately owned and it’s not really an issue if someones family member is in the office for any length of time, so using argument 1 would get you nowhere.

        We did have an elderly gentleman that used to work with my boss, so he let him sit at a desk and do some “sales” work because he “needed something to do.” Eventually his dimentia got so bad that we had to “fire” him (he didn’t even get paid) by telling his wife. She’d hide his keys but he’d find them and come to “work” anyways. If she confronted him about it, he’d yell and hit her. No one wanted to say anything directly to him because we didn’t know how he would react. Often when you talked to him he’d just give you a blank stare and walk away. It was a really heart breaking and complex situation.

        Sorry if I was rambling!

    3. A Teacher*

      You’re also taking on responsibility and that means liability for someone else. As individuals you have no “duty to act” unless you’re being paid to work in that medical profession by that employer at that time. For example, if I worked with the OP and I am a licensed athletic trainer so I carry a medical license, I have no duty to act if the company isn’t paying me to be an athletic trainer but rather a temp in whatever specialized field they work in. However, if I choose to act because say the uncle has a medical issue I have to act up to my standard of care–which is a lot higher than the layperson but my point is that you do not have a duty to act under medical conditions unless you are the paid medical caregiver for that individual. If she’s acting with reasonable prudence to her level of training she’s probably covered by Good Samaritan in the event something happens, but as sad as the condition is, I wouldn’t jeopardize my own future for long-term care of someone that I’m not related to or connected to. I’ve seen too many athletic trainers and other people that are “helping” at work in similar situations have issues down the road, but that’s just my opinion.

      1. Elizabeth*

        Even if she’s covered, legally, by the Good Samaritan laws (and I agree with you that she probably is), I think she’s still right to speak up and say, “Hey, I’m not comfortable with this.” It could be extremely distressing if something happened that she couldn’t deal with, and it’s not fair to expose an employee to that kind of distress.

        1. A Teacher*

          and she probably is covered…doesn’t mean she should have to do it. It is a terrible situation to be put in but she’s got to do what is best for herself and taking on the care of someone you aren’t connected to, not to mention if he did fall and hit his head, she has no right to give legal consent to treat or make decisions about care.

  10. C.*

    As someone who has been there, caring for an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s/dementia until their death I can speak to this from both sides. The disease is terrible, worse than cancer or any kind of conventional terminal disease, it slowly steals everything from a person causing nothing but pain and sadness for all involved, it a special kind of hell that you can only know if you have been there.

    That being said I can understand the OP’s reaction to this. I could not imagine bringing my mother to work with me, even during the early stages of her sickness, its simply beyond comprehension to me. The safety and security issues that could have been involved in that would have been staggering, and totally not allowed by my company, on any level. There are resources out there, adult daycare, home companions, many of these services can be free depending on the income of the individual patient. Many churches and synagogues offer them as well. Perhaps her boss is simply not aware of them, I wasn’t in the beginning myself. Perhaps a casual conversation with her boss could strike up a point to suggest this, at least get on the subject of why he’s there in here office and what can be done to make her life a little easier. I feel for the women, I really do, but she needs to find better arrangements for her uncle, not just for her, but for him too. I’m trying to picture someone I know sitting behind me all day, watching me work and how boring that must be. I hope she can get the assistance she needs, because it is out there.

  11. Mike C.*

    Hey folks, remember back when we were discussing tasks that aren’t part of your job, and many assumed that it was a given that you’d never be asked to do something that was outside of your training, certifications or reasonable job description?

    This is one of those situations.

    1. Elizabeth*

      I don’t think this is a reasonable thing for the boss to ask, though (as I said above), because a) this is a personal situation of the boss’s, not a work situation, and b) there is at least some possibility of injury to the OP or the uncle if something should go wrong while the boss is out of the office.

      If the boss were the owner of the company, it would be her call whether to make this part of the job or not (barring, of course, whatever legal issues there are involved – a topic I’m not well-versed in). However, given that the boss is also an employee, and a temp at that, I doubt that it’s actually her call to make about whether this is part of the job.

      1. Mike C.*

        I was unclear, by saying “this is one of those situations”, I’m pointing out that “this is one of those situations where someone is being asked to do way beyond what is reasonable”. So we completely agree. :)

  12. Chriama*

    Whenever I hear outrageous stories like this I do a mental double-take. In reality though, a person can get away with outrageous stuff like this precisely because it’s so outside the sphere of common social etiquette that there’s no precedent for addressing said behaviour and other people end up tolerating it through inaction (like the OP is currently doing).

    OP: for the reasons stated above (your job, your safety, the uncle’s safety, the coworker’s job and peace of mind) you need to explicitly state that this is NOT OK. The coworker needs to:
    1. find alternate arrangements for uncle
    2. come up with a short-term solution to make sure you don’t end up responsible for uncle again

    You shouldn’t feel guilty about making those requests of your coworker. Since it is such a sensitive issue, I’ll grant that some sympathy is warranted. I would encourage you spend one evening looking for resources to help coworker (some have been mentioned in this thread) because, as has been stated, caring for a sick relative can be an isolating experience and I bet coworker would feel better knowing she’s not alone and that there are resources out there to help her.

    That being said, things are probably going to be awkward. You shouldn’t feel awkward since the entire situation was initiated by coworker, but it’s human nature to feel awkward in awkward situations. Just remember that the entire arrangement is so outside normal social boundaries that it’s okay to feel uncertain.

    One last note — whether or not you decide to contact the temp agency, I would wait until after having spoken to coworker. Ideally you’re already constructing your speech to coworker and will speak to her before this weekend, so at worst you call the agency on Monday. I just think that since the situation is so sensitive it’s better to talk to coworker first before calling the authorities on her.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “Just remember that the entire arrangement is so outside normal social boundaries that it’s okay to feel uncertain.”

      I really like this point.

  13. KayDay*

    This one is really hard to figure out.

    On the one hand, this is just not appropriate.

    On the other hand, I really feel for the boss. When my grandmother could no longer care for herself (even with a day nurse) it took about a year to get her into a decent nursing home, which was really expensive. My mom and uncle had used all their vacation and sick time caring for her. Of course, they never actually brought her into work, but they had been with their employers for some time, so they had a lot more flexibility than the OP’s boss.

    On the other other hand, the OP definitely should not be expected to care for Uncle Bob. It sounds like the OP’s boss isn’t explicitly requiring a high level of care, but of course by being alone with Uncle Bob the OP because the defacto babysitter (the child example above was great, actually). Yet, this isn’t the OP’s job, and the OP really should not have to deal with this. What if something happens? Will the OP get in trouble for not doing more to prevent said bad thing from happening?

    All my relatives who have had dementia have gotten it very late in life, so they’ve never been physically able to do much. However, I do know of a younger dementia patient who climbed a fence (!!) when he was confused, so I can see the possible danger.

    I think the OP’s best option is to talk directly to the boss and say that while s/he is sympathetic to the boss’s situation, she is unable to any care for Uncle Bob when the Boss is out of the office. If the boss has a strong negative reaction to that, then it might be time to go to the temp agency, but if the Boss says she will find an alternative when she is out of the office, I would drop it at that point.

  14. Joy*

    Just bolstering what’s already been said above:

    I volunteered for a hospice for several years, and before I could interact with any patient, I had several days of training as well as a huge binder full of educational material and mandatory tests on it. The level of volunteering was exactly what you’re doing – being there while a caregiver has to take some time away, and making sure that the client doesn’t come to harm.

    I’ll also attest to the fact that people with dementia can become very physically aggressive very suddenly, and that comes with surprising levels of strength and speed.

    It’s a sad situation all around, but OP, you have every right (and perhaps a duty) to remove yourself from the situation. You’re not trained, you’re at your place of work, you didn’t volunteer for this, and it might be dangerous for “Bob” to be left under the care of someone who isn’t trained to handle his needs.

  15. Ellie*

    Agreed with everyone who mentions the OP should absolutely address this with the boss, but with some compassion and empathy.

    I also wanted to add that personally I think the issue is not the OP’s lack of training or qualifications, but rather the level of attention she is able to provide. While I can reasonably see the boss expecting the OP to be understanding and offer assistance directing Uncle Bob to the restroom, the boss is overlooking that while the OP is focused on completing an important project Uncle Bob could be letting strangers into the office or wandering off. This isn’t safe for Uncle Bob, and it would really be in the OP’s best interest to find a caretaker that can provide him with the patience and undivided attention he needs.

    1. fposte*

      It’s less compassionate, but I’m also troubled by this misuse of labor funds. It’s not likely that the company who contracted for the temps realizes that either of them are caretaking on the professional services dime.

    2. Ellie*

      *Boss’s best interest (although it’s certainly in the OP’s best interest as well, but not her responsibility to arrange).

  16. Clueless*

    I am surprised. People go up in arms about being kids to work, but how is bringing your disabled uncle to work who needs to be escorted to the restroom any different?

    1. EM*

      THANK YOU! I have a 6 year old son, and I would never bring him to work, even if I was sitting in my office all day, let alone leave for offsite meetings leaving him in the care of a subordinate. And he can even find his own way to and from the bathroom.

    2. LJL*

      People go up in arms about being kids to work, but how is bringing your disabled uncle to work who needs to be escorted to the restroom any different?

      I’d have to say it ‘s worse. There are too many opportunities for someone to be physically hurt. This story (caveat: I wrote it> illustrates the potential for physical harm, to both the dementia patient and the “watcher” very well. Every word is true.

  17. Ask a Manager* Post author

    It might be helpful to separate out the different questions at play here, because I think they’re getting conflated at some points:

    1. Is this reasonable to ask the OP to do? I think the answer is clearly no; I don’t think anyone is arguing that it’s reasonable or smart or fair to ask the OP to do this.

    2. Does the boss have the right to ask the OP to do this? This is a different question than the above, and the answer is yes, as long as people above her know about it and don’t object to it. Your job is anything your boss says it is, as long as it’s legal and people above her know and don’t object.

    3. Would the people above the boss be okay with this if they knew about it? We don’t know, but I suspect the answer is no.

    1. ChristineH*

      I don’t have the time right now to read through all of these responses, but as to the separate questions you pose here, I agree with you.

      However, I’d like to play Devil’s Advocate for a second having worked in providing resources to families at my last job:

      I think many people in situations like this don’t even know where to begin when looking for help, especially when it’s a new situation. Families can get very overwhelmed and might not even think to look into alternate options.

      My thoughts on your 3 questions still stand; I just think it might be worth mentioning that this very well might’ve been the only solution the OP’s boss’s family could come up with in a bind, not realizing that there are better options available.

      I hope this turns out okay for all involved; please keep us posted, OP.

      1. ChristineH*

        Sorry…in a bit of a rush, so apologies in advance if my response seems to be conflicting or contradictory.

    2. Josh S*

      2a. Does the OP have the right to refuse to do this? Absolutely, especially since accepting the care of a dementia patient can pose risks for the patient’s health, the well-being of the OP, add liability to the company, etc.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Ah, but it depends on what you mean by a right to refuse. Legally, sure, anyone can refuse to do anything. But your employer can fire you for refusing. There’s no law that says she can refuse to do something she’s asked to do, no matter how unreasonable it is, and get to keep her job.

        Now, she could probably collect unemployment if she was fired for refusing, but that’s probably not her ideal outcome.

        1. Mike C.*

          How would you explain such a situation to potential employers in the future? They’re obviously going to ask, and a reasonable reference check would raise flags, would it not?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think you could be straightforward and explain that the employer began relying on you to provide elder care, which was a change in your job description that you weren’t comfortable with.

    3. Joy*

      Alison, I think there’s one more important question:

      4. Is it ethical for the OP to keep doing this? Bob’s niece is doing him a disservice by leaving his safety in the hands of someone untrained, with no backup assistance (besides calling 911 if something has already gone horribly wrong). If Bob really needs 24/7 supervision, it should be with either (a) a family member or friend who’s familiar with his needs and condition, or (b) someone with proper training for elder care, especially for patients with dementia.

      I know it’s a rough situation, but it would be awful for something to happen to Bob because the OP isn’t trained for a situation that arises. Awful for everyone, but especially for Bob. His needs should count here.

    4. Seal*

      “…as long as the people above her know about it and don’t object to it.”

      Sounds like the OP doesn’t know whether or not her boss’s bosses (or for that matter, the company they’re temping for) have signed off on this. I suspect not; otherwise we’d be having an entirely different conversation. Something has to be said immediately, both to the boss AND to the boss’s bosses, if for no other reason than making sure everyone is on the same page liability-wise. Not to belittle those who suffer from dementia, but what the boss is doing is no different than bringing a child or pet to work regularly without permission and asking subordinates to babysit while she works. It’s distracting, potentially dangerous for everyone involved and unprofessional.

      That is not to say that I don’t sympathize with the boss; being the primary caregiver for a family member who suffers from dementia is undoubtedly challenging, frustrating and sad. But bringing her uncle to work because he needs close supervision has the potential to make a bad situation worse. What if she gets fired for doing so? What if a client complains? What if the OP refuses to help? Perhaps the OP could to gently discuss those scenarios with her boss and suggest alternatives such as adult day care. As others have said, it may well be that the boss is not aware of the alternatives available for her situation.

      Regardless, the OP needs to speak up and soon.

    5. Esra*

      2. Does the boss have the right to ask the OP to do this? This is a different question than the above, and the answer is yes, as long as people above her know about it and don’t object to it. Your job is anything your boss says it is, as long as it’s legal and people above her know and don’t object.

      This boggles my mind. I mean, this case is so obviously beyond the purview of the job and totally not okay. There should be some level of accountability between what you were hired to do and the work you are assigned and what you are asked to do.

      Is this an American/Canadian disconnect, or am I just sheltered?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        In the U.S., it’s illegal to fire someone because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sex, or other protected class, or as retaliation against them for engaging in legally protected behavior (such as reporting harassment, complaining about discrimination, or organizing with coworkers about wages and working conditions). Beyond that, though, the law doesn’t get involved much — employers are free to end the employment relationship for any other reason, just as employees are end it themselves for any reason.

    6. EngineerGirl*

      2. Does the boss have the right to ask the OP to do this? This is a different question than the above, and the answer is yes, as long as people above her know about it and don’t object to it. Your job is anything your boss says it is, as long as it’s legal and people above her know and don’t object.

      And there is the crux. It may be illegal for the OP to accept payment to take care of Uncle Bob (based on his condition). That would vary from state to state. She may need to be liscensed because she is accepting payment for these “services”.

      1. Joey*

        I may be wrong , but that sounds really out there. Thats like saying its also illegal to bring my toddler to work from time to time because no one at work is a licensed daycare provider. See how ridiculous that sounds.

        1. Rana*

          But you’re not expecting other people to care for your toddler in your absence, right? That’s the difference here.

      2. bearing*

        Yes, this what I was wondering – it seems that if you want to argue that supervising Uncle Bob is part of her “job,” because her boss tells her so, then she is governed by the state’s rules regarding licensure of individuals who are being contracted to provide non-familial elder care.

  18. Not So NewReader*

    What a horrible situation. The boss has a captive audience (OP) and she is taking advantage of OP.

    Background: I have taken care of two family members with dementia. I have spent over a decade in human service. I may sound cold here- so please understand, this comes from decades of dealing with “stuff.”

    OP, do not do this. Do not accept responsibility for care of this individual. If it means leaving the job, then leave. Everything people have said here is true times ten. There are liability, safety, abuse concerns going on PLUS. (In my state neglect is considered as a form of abuse. If you are on the phone and not watching Bob this could be deemed as neglect. You get charged with abuse/neglect you are looking at jail time.)
    You are totally correct- the non-stop distractions are detrimental to your work. There is no doubt in my mind that you have one eye on Bob through out your entire work day. So even if you are not working with him you are still constantly checking, checking, checking. I cannot see how you get anything done. This will only get worse. It will not get easier.

    I cannot see how it can be legal for you to watch Bob. Elder care was not what you were hired for, you do not have the qualifications, the certifications and specialty training. If Bob slugs you in the eye, will workers comp pay? hmmm.

    I would bet my last dollar that the owners of the company would not be okay with this set up, nor would the temp agency. You have too many third parties involved here- it is not just you and the boss in this story.

    I rant. I am sorry. I have seen too much and know too much.

    So what to do.
    OP, use the heartfelt approach first. Talk with your boss. Ask her what her plans are. If you can and are willing, perhaps you can help her find a place for Bob. Go over all the things people said here in this blog about safety, liability, etc. Tell her that you are so not qualified to help Bob properly. (The fact that you don’t want to- is based in part because of not being qualified.)

    I am sure one or both of you will end up crying in this conversation. Totally appropriate because this is such a huge topic- the scope of the topic alone is daunting.

    Aim for a time frame- so that you know decisions are going to be made and this situation will change.

    Step 2. If this conversation totally falls flat and you get no where near the responses you need to hear then go forward with reporting it to your temp agency. Use the same talking points as in step 1.

    Step 3. If the temp agency turns a blind eye, then your last recourse is to leave the job. Give your regrets and move on.

    Caring for a person with special needs is not something one foists onto just anyone. And most certianly, no job is worth risking jail time over.

    1. Anonymous*

      Imho Not So NewReader made best posting in this thread.

      Having been in a similar, yet largely different situation as the OP, I see how bad he could feel not being trained in caring for this person, possibly always in fear some accident could happen.
      It may sound cynical though if actually such an accident happens Bob will probably forget it soon, but OP’s life might be ruined forever, be it bad feelings, getting in debt paying for an inevitable mistake or even being jailed.

    2. Jamie*

      I hope everyone who goes through something similar in the future goes through the archives here and reads NSNR’s post.

      This is a tutorial for handling this in a wise and compassionate way.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Thanks, folks- Jamie and Anon- for your kind words.
        Am near tears thinking about this person’s situation. There are no winners here. That is part of why AD is so hugely tragic, like tentacles on an octopus, this disease touches every aspect of the patient’s life and the caregiver’s life. No aspect of life goes unscathed. New symptoms come up fast. Does OP know how to handle a grand mal? And then there is the stuff the patient gets into… Does OP know what to do when Bob takes the faucets off the sink and water is spewing all over?
        (Yes, real life examples.)
        I could go on…
        Bottom line and I cannot stress this enough: Any missteps in OP’s handling of a situation could lead to legal charges. OP could be facing jail time. (Sure, once investigated OP might be cleared- but this is waaay more job than OP signed on for.) For me, that stands alone as a deal breaker.
        Let us know how it goes for you, OP.

  19. A somewhat new reader*

    Ugghhh I really hate to see scenarios like this. I accept the idea that you have to do what your employer asks (as long as its legal) but I really take issue with the idea that you should have to agree to do something that could potentially implicate legal liability.

    I will first off state that I don’t know anything about employment law. But this question, depending on the facts, could involve a weird intersection of torts and employment law. Enough that if I were the OP, I would consider speaking with an attorney to ensure I wasn’t taking on personal liability that I wasn’t prepared to handle. Usually if you call your state’s bar association you can get an attorney referral and a discounted or free consultation.

    Now, depending on the facts of the OP’s case there may be absolutely no cause for concern. And to hold off any subsequent comments, yes I know that as a general rule there is no duty to act (not to mention issues as to whether there would be personal or employer liability). However, to every general rule there are exceptions and whether or not an exception applies (and to whom it applies) requires a licensed attorney to apply the law to the facts (i.e. legal advice).

    At the very least, I agree with everyone else that it seems she has to say something either to her boss or the temp agency.

  20. Elizabeth M*

    Alison, this is one letter I’d love to hear a follow-up about, though it might be too soon to fit with your scheduled catch-up. I feel so badly for all the people involved, especially Uncle Bob.

  21. Lily in NYC*

    An additional concern is “twilighting”, which is when people with dementia/Parkinsons/etc. start acting up more towards dusk. My sister had a boss with undiagnosed Parkinsons, and as it got worse he started groping and trying to kiss women in the office as soon as it started getting dark outside. It was so out of character for him that they finally bit the bullet and told his wife she had to get herself out of denial and do something for this poor man. She refused and they had to remove him from his position (the head of a large Federal agency!!). Awkward all around.

  22. Pax*

    Others have said, and I agree, that OP needs to address this, stop providing care, and let the agency know.

    There is one concern no one has raised, and which makes it imperative for the OP to tell the agency about it.

    If her bosses make it a *condition of employment,* then that legally makes the temp company *providers* of elder care – whether they know it or not. And since the business is hiring Boss and the OP, then they may also be providing elder care.

    Most states have laws pertaining to the *business* of providing elder care. I know mine does, and my late mother’s home state, and the last state I lived in; several other posters have mentioned laws in their areas, too. There are standards for training – which the OP doesn’t meet. (OP, can you do CPR? That’s the bare minimum!) There are facility standards, too, and standards for treatment. And I am sure there are insurance requirements.

    Add up all those law violations, and the fines for them, and the repercussions, and you can see why it is important for the OP to tell the agency! As long as they are paying her while she cares for Uncle, they are liable for these legal requirements.

    If Uncle gets hurt, or hurts somebody, or wanders off and causes an accident, the insurance companies involved will be looking for the “deep pockets.” The temp company will be the first place they look.

    OP, when you look up resources for Uncle’s family, also check the laws for providers of elder care. And when you talk to Boss, after you give her the helpful references, bring those laws up.

  23. ella*

    Wandering over here after being linked to this post in today’s post about watching grandkids. Has the OP ever sent an update? I hope Uncle Bob has found a more stable and beneficial situation for him than sitting in an office chair all day.

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